Profile: David Jason - Still Larkin around

LAST Easter more than ten million viewers tuned in to see Sir David Jason take his final bow as Detective Inspector Jack Frost in a touching conclusion to the long-running ITV drama, A Touch Of Frost.

It felt like the end of an era as Jason, in tune with his crime-solving character, hinted that he would be taking a break to enjoy the fruits of well-earned retirement.

A year on, to the delight of his fans, the break is over. Last week it was announced that Jason, 71, will star in a new BBC comedy series, The Royal Bodyguard. It is the actor's first comedy role since Only Fools And Horses, the perennially popular show for which he will be forever remembered as Del Boy. In his new series he plays Captain Guy Hubble, a former soldier who works in the car park at Buckingham Palace until a "terrible misunderstanding" results in his promotion to chief of royal security, a role for which he proves woefully inadequate.

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The series, which begins filming in July, was written by Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni and will be produced by Jimmy Mulville. When Mulville heard that Jason had agreed to star in the project he said: "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven." The Independent declared that Jason had "struck a blow for older actors" by taking on the role, but the actor himself said he just thought it sounded like fun. "It will be good to have a laugh again," he said.

If Jason's previous projects are anything to go by, The Royal Bodyguard stands an excellent chance of becoming must-see television when it airs later this year. Throughout his long career, Jason has shown a flair for playing characters who have become national treasures. He remains one of Britain's best-loved actors with a gift for both comedy and drama. When A Touch Of Frost began, he played the part of a grieving widower and his Del Trotter character was regularly voted the funniest character on television.

Jason began his acting career in 1964 when he played Bert Bradshaw in the much maligned soap, Crossroads. He went on to appear in the children's TV show, Do Not Adjust Your Set alongside Peter Cook, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and in the early 1970s became a stalwart of radio comedies including The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and the satire Week Ending.

His work captured the attention of Ronnie Barker, who began to mentor the young actor. The two appeared together in Hark At Barker, with Jason playing Dithers, the 100-year-old gardener. In 1976, they began a lengthy partnership in the hit comedy, Open All Hours, with Barker starring as the curmudgeonly shop owner, Albert Arkwright, and Jason as his hapless nephew/errand boy, Granville.Barker meantime was enjoying even greater success with Ronnie Corbett in The Two Ronnies, in which Jason played several uncredited voiceover roles, including the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, a sketch written by Barker and Spike Milligan, who reputedly supplied the raspberries.

In 1981, Jason found his standout role when he was cast as Del Trotter in Only Fools And Horses. The lovable wideboy from Peckham, whose ill-advised scams inevitably ended up in abject humiliation, was an instant favourite and his colourful vocabulary popularised slang phrases still in use today, including "plonker", "dipstick" and "lovely jubbly". Although it was primarily a comedy, the show also threw up some touching family moments between Del Boy and younger brother Rodney, played by Nicholas Lyndhurst, and Uncle Albert (Buster Merryfield). Even though the series ended in 1991, it still holds a special place in British TV history. Such was its popularity that Jason and the surviving cast reprised their roles in Christmas specials until 2003. Away from sitcoms, Jason enjoyed success with several high-profile dramatic roles including Skullion in Porterhouse Blues and Pop Larkin in The Darling Buds Of May.

For the best part of 40 years, Jason has been one of the country's most prolific actors, but he admits that his professional success came at the expense of his personal life. "It wasn't fame and it wasn't money, but I always wanted to succeed," he told Michael Parkinson in a BBC interview. "The only way I could do that was to try with every job to be better than I was in the last one and to learn.

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"Because of that I needed to be footloose and fancy free. I needed to go where the work was. As soon as things started to get heavy with a relationship, I'm afraid I was one of those that would be off, gone. Only because I knew, for me, I couldn't be responsible for a family and the silly work I was doing. In this business you have to have what they call an idiotic determination to succeed."

In 1995 Jason's long-term partner, Myfanwy Talog, died, aged 50, after being diagnosed with breast cancer. A few years later he met Gill Hinchcliffe and in 2001, at the age of 61, Jason became a father to Sophie Mae. The couple married at the Dorchester Hotel in London in 2005 and the family live in Buckinghamshire.

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When Parkinson asked him why he had waited so long to have a child, Jason said: "I didn't actually wait, it was thrust upon me I think." He admitted Sophie Mae's birth had been "quite emotional".

Jason was born David John White in 1940 in north London. When he left school he trained as an electrician but performed in repertory theatre in his spare time. He was just 15 when he got his first critical praise by a reviewer called WH Gelder who saw the teenager's performance in the Incognito Theatre Company's production of Robert's Wife.In another amateur dramatics show, Gelder described Jason as an "extraordinarily precocious schoolboy, looking like a young James Cagney, playing with the ease of a born actor". In his earliest performances Jason used his real name, but changed it when he discovered there was another David White on Equity's books.

Over the course of his career Jason has scooped almost every award going. He won four British Academy Television Awards, four British Comedy Awards and six National Television Awards. In 2006 Jason came first in an ITV poll to find TV's 50 Greatest Stars. In 1993 he was made an OBE and in 2005 he was knighted for his services to drama.

With his latest venture, Jason is returning to what he loves best - making people laugh. As he once said: "I shall act until I drop. I just want to keep doing it, and making it fun."